Railway Minister Md Nurul Islam Sujan on Saturday said there would be no hike in train fares, alleviating worries of people who suffered a big blow due to an increase in public bus fares last week.
"We have not taken any decision to increase train fares. We would be thinking of a hike if we were incurring huge losses," he said in response to queries after inaugurating a train stopover at Brahmanbaria station.
Despite being a loss-making concern, Bangladesh Railway (BR) has made clear its decision to not increase fares. The Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation, on the other hand, hiked fuel prices last week despite making Tk43,000 crore in the last eight years.
At Saturday's event, Sujan further said, "Railway is a service-oriented organisation. We are committed to provide easy and comfortable service to people through the overall development of railways."
Due to the fuel price hike, the government subsidies for railways will also increase, he also said.
Dhirendra Nath Mazumder, director general of BR, told The Business Standard that there were no plans to hike train fare now.
In February 2016, train fare was hiked by 7.15% to Tk0.39 per kilometre from Tk0.36 per kilometre.
Due to the hike, train fare on the Dhaka-Chattogram route increased by Tk20 to Tk96 for different types of seats at the time.
Decision won't benefit exporters, importers
The decision to not increase train fares will not be of much benefit to imports and exports, according to industry insiders.
They said that almost all imported and exported goods in the country were transported through road vehicles, such as trucks and covered vans. They, however, welcomed the decision.
According to various reports, the time required to transport container traffic by rail is much longer than by road because of speed restrictions on railways. It takes 16 hours to reach Chattogram port from the inland container depot in Dhaka by rail, 10 hours by road and 18 hours by inland water transport.
At present capacity, BR can carry 25% of container traffic, but it only carries 10% due to operational constraints. Only 2% of the transport budget is allocated to railway transport in Bangladesh and as a result, the infrastructure, performance and productivity lags behind other forms.
Mohammad Hatem, executive president of the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association, told The Business Standard that most of their products or raw materials were not carried by trains. "It will not be of any particular benefit to us. Truck fares have already risen," he said.
Highlighting data from the Passenger Welfare Association, he said the government may get Tk4,000-5,000 crore a year by raising fuel prices. But by increasing transport fares, the owners "would loot Tk73,000 crore a year".
Solaiman Parsee, an importer of pipe and tube well products, also leader of the Bangladesh Pipe and Tubewell Merchants Association, said their imports were brought from the port by trucks and not railways.
"The decision not to raise fares will not help us in any way," he told The Business Standard. "Bringing through rail is more of a hassle for us. However, those whose goods come by rail may get some benefits."
Brahmanbaria station reopens
Train operations in Brahmanbaria station resumed Saturday after eight months since it was vandalised by miscreants on 26 March.
Miscreants had set fire to the station master's room, operating room, VIP room, chief booking assistant's room, the ticket counter, signaling equipment, including the panel board, the level crossing gate and other installations.
All intercity trains were canceled at the station after the day of the incident.
Md Nurul Islam Sujan said the fires caused a loss of Tk2.5crore to Bangladesh Railway.
He said from now 14 inter-city, six mail and four commuter trains will make stopovers at Brahmanbaria station.
Among others, Md Salim Reza, secretary at the Ministry of Railways, also spoke at the programme.